Violence and the Reasons Against It
SINCE last April all factions of SDS have reaffirmed their commitment to the use of violence of the hit-and-run or the more sustained and organized variety. While a hand-out signed by five members of HR SDS condemned the Weatherman raid on the Center for International Affairs, it endorsed the use of violence under other circumstances. The authors argued that the substantive accomplishments of last April were achieved only through violence: "SDS supports the use of violence by oppressed people against the bosses to win just demands. We leaflet and talk to large numbers of students and workers, and seek to win masses of students to take militant action against imperialism and win real concessions, like the abolition of ROTC, no expansion, prevention of evictions, etc. Without violence, none of these demands could be won."
This view has been accepted by many students at Harvard. It is, however, highly questionable. Last April may have done little more than weaken the structure of the University and radicalize a number of students. It is not clear that the April crisis contributed to the demise of ROTC on the Harvard campus nor is it certain that the signs of change in Harvard's concern for the surrounding community, reflected by the recent announcements to construct low and middle income housing, could not have been secured without resort to violence.
Continuous repetition of a question able proposition often leads to its acceptance; however, it does not establish its truth. There is no clear empirical evidence that changes in university policy can be brought about only through violent confrontation. The results of last April's turmoil and the effectiveness of violence in general need to be reassessed.
Of the original six demands made at the time University Hall was occupied, two rapidly emerged as the central issues of the ensuing weeks-ROTC presence on the campus and University expansion. The radical position is that ROTC was finally withdrawn from Harvard only because physical confrontation was used by students. In fact, ROTC would probably have been withdrawn on the basis of the faculty resolution passed in February. The resolution stated in part "That the Faculty of Arts and Sciences
Withold academic credit from any courses offered by the three branches of ROTC at Harvard in the future.
Request the Harvard Corporation to terminate the Faculty appointments of the present instructors of these courses....
Request the Harvard Corporation to withdraw the description of ROTC courses from the course catalogue and to cease the free allocation of space in University buildings to ROTC."
The resolution passed on April 17th essentially reaffirmed this position, stating "That the principle governing ROTC be that it operates as any other ordinary extracurricular activities with no special privilege or facilities granted either by contract or informal arrangement." The federal law governing ROTC requires that instructors be accorded academic rank, and that courses be given credit.
It is unlikely that ROTC could have stayed at Harvard after the first faculty action regardless of the administration's failure to understand or attempt to misrepresent the resolution. When the Defense Department decided to phase out the program at Harvard, the legal situation it faced was no different than the position established in February. The occupation of University Hall and those most dramatic and publicly broadcast faculty votes which followed did not materially change ROTC's status. ROTC would have gone without the April crisis.
UNIVERSITY policy toward its urban environment emerged as the sleeper of the April events. Individuals had obviously been concerned and Professor Wilson had completed his report but the issue was not a focus of popular attention. April did draw out of the administration a commitment to build low cost housing in Boston and Cambridge. However, this commitment might well have been secured without disrupting the University. The anti-ROTC campaign launched by the left during the fall had culminated in February in the faculty decision which in effect abolished ROTC. A similar campaign might have worked in the case of University expansion. However, no such concerted effort was made by the SDS until after the occupation and the bust had taken place, when the pamphlet "Harvard Urban Imperialist" first appeared.
SDS has promised an attempt at another round of violence this fall. This is perfectly consistent with the analysis and objectives of the radical movement. The organic view of society subscribed to by SDS precludes admitting that significant social change can be made without revolution. For those who perceive the university as inextricably enmeshed with the corrupting class of an exploitative and unreformable social structure, there can be no qualms about violent action.
If violence contributes to the election of conservative politicians or the failure to pass legislation aimed at social reform, this must be viewed as a short-term cost. The outcome of any particular political action must be measured not in terms of changes in government policies but by its impact on the participants. The choice of tactics-an election campaign, throwing deans out of their offices, hit-and-run raids depends little upon the issue itself, or on the short-term effects of the action. Tactics are chosen with an eye to radicalizing those who participate.
This need to direct attention toward changing attitudes rather than changing official policies produces a strong proclivity toward ever greater levels of violence. To wrench emotions, an action must be dramatic; to be dramatic, it must be unique; to be unique in America in 1969 it is increasingly necessary to be violent. A student picket line in 1960 was an event with some emotional impact; a picket line in 1969 is hardly likely to prompt even intellectual curiosity. Occupying a building is almost passe. Peaceful protests may still be effective in changing government practices but they do not have a strong psychological impact. Violence has become more attractive for SDS because it is increasingly a necessary condition for building the movement.
HOWEVER, for liberals who believe that significant transformations are possible without revolution, an easy acceptance of the use of violence is not possible. Political morality entails more than merely having good intentions. The abolition of ROTC, a more sensitive University attitude toward its surroundings, and a separation between the defense establishment and the University in both the natural and social sciences are all desirable objectives. However, the commend-ability of these aims does not automatically establish a normative justification for any action carried out to achieve them. Political morality requires that an action be effective not merely well-intentioned, and that the actors be in some position to suffer any potentially undesirable consequences arising from their own acts.
Students are likely to secure reform within the university through means short of direct violent action. They may help to bring pressure on the government to end the war through activity in the societies at large. However, violent activity against the university with an aim to purify it of the sins which it shares with the rest of society is likely merely to weaken the university without appreciably depriving the Defense Department or anyone else of the services they now receive.
The potential gains from violent action are not large; the cost, the destruction of the university as a potential critic of the society, is significant. Furthermore, white students are not likely to suffer the brunt of any penalties which society may impose because of disruption on the campus.
There is a good reason to seek a separation between the university and the government. A society is more likely to reform itself if it has several centers of influence and an intellectual community which is not committed to an official policy which it may have played a part in concocting. However, this is not to say that the university's refusal to service certain outside groups would deprive them of any essential output. Action against the university may lighten the burden of the soul, but it will have only a limited effect in achieving wider change.
Purifying the university will not purify the society. The potential payoffs of changes secured through violence are small. The costs are high in terms of both the physical destruction of university facilities such as computers (Sir George Williams), card catalogues (Illinois), and buildings (Berkeley, etc.), and the weakening of the administrative and faculty structures which provide some degree of insulation from the antipathy of the surrounding society.
The university performs many undesirable services for the society in which it operates. However, these activities could easily be administratively and physically removed from the university. The military could replace the ROTC program with little difficulty even if it was completely eliminated from all college campuses. The radical argument that stopping ROTC will stop the war, an argument which relies primarily on the very large percentage of junior officers trained in ROTC programs, is fallacious. The Defense Department has numerous options to replace ROTC such as summer camps, or an expanded O.C.S. program. ROTC is not alter all much of a learning experience.
Similarly, government research carried on at universities could easily be physically relocated. Private industry has already gone far in establishing quasi-academic institutions which directly service their needs. RAND is only the most well-known of a large number of R and D firms which secure contracts from the government of large corporations. Research is performed by men who use equipment which is largely paid for by the government. At some, but certainly not at prohibitive, expense, the government could set up its equipment in a place further removed from Harvard Yard than Mallinkrodt Hall. There are more congenial settings. The men who perform objectionable work now would continue to perform it outside a university setting.
THE university is accused by radicals of providing a rationale for the immoral policies of the present political system. However, the university is not itself the source of government action. It is an easy task for a politician to choose a course of action and then to find an academic argument or even a live academic to rationalize it. The rationalization need not be extremely persuasive nor come from a Harvard professor. The ranks of American academe are legion. Even if all those with supposedly obnoxious views were driven from the campus, the government would still have access to them.
To view the university professors as the authors of national policies is to credit them with far more power than they actually possess. The role of intellectuals has been more to justify actions after the fact than to make a critical difference in fundamental decisions.
A FURTHER consideration which makes the use of violence questionable is that white students are not likely to suffer great harm from any frenzied reactions to violence at the university. A cracked head, a fine, and a short jail sentence are not pleasant but they are not disastrous. Those radicals who have in fact gone into the community are subject to potentially severe penalties although the country has not yet demonstrated a sustained desire to deal with white radicals in the way in which it has dealt with the Black Panthers.
At any rate, few of those who occupied University Hall and only a miniscule percentage of those that struck will take direct action in the outside community which would subject them to long jail terms.
However, the public reaction to university disruption leads to attitudes and policies which do make more difficult the lives of the most dispossessed element in the country. While student activism has contributed to public disaffection with the war, it has not done much to change the domestic situation. Despite the efforts of Progressive Labor, little headway has been made in securing support for radical causes among workers. This may change and, if it does, student potential for initiating effective action on domestic issues will greatly improve. However, as things now stand, those who participate in violent action against the university do not directly suffer from its undesirable consequences.
Students can only achieve their objectives indirectly by influencing policy makers or the groups to which policy makers respond. If activism alienates these groups, students have improved nothing but the state of their own psyches. One of the sources of strength of the radical movement is its appeal to unblemished goodness based on pure intentions. "I put my body on the line" they shouted at Memorial Church on the day after the bust, and there were few who did not feel a twinge of shame for not having done the same. However laudable objectives are not enough.
Actions must be efficacious as well as good. In America in 1969, violence against the university is counterproductive. Changes within the university can be secured without violence: changes in the society cannot be achieved by student violence alone.